Ah, the holidays—drinking mulled wine or eggnog by a toasty fire with twinkling lights...uh, hold on, hold on. If you’re staying aboard in December, there’s likely going to be no fire, there may be no hot wine and depending on your batteries, festive lighting may your headlamp. But be of good cheer, with a little preparation and ingenuity, there are many great ways to stay warm, dry and dazzled during this winter season.

staying warm onboard

Winter can be hard on your boat. Heck it can be hard on you. Follow these tips for staying warm while onboard this holiday season.


Do: Do get a heater—or many. Reverse cycle, ceramic (electric) and gravity-fed diesel heaters will transform any boat from a cold cave to an inviting sanctuary. You may need to add another shore power connection if you plan to have multiple electric heaters and be sure to monitor your fuel tank so you don’t run out of diesel. For electric, make sure it’s the kind kind of heater that will turn off if it falls over. Numerous small and silent heaters are on the market, so boats of any size can become a pleasant hideaway even when the wind is howling outside.

Don’t: Don’t just plug in a bunch of electric heaters without reviewing your wiring—you don’t want to risk an electrical short and start a fire.

Shrink Wrapping

Do: Consider creating a plastic cave. For boaters in the northeast, shrink wrapping is a way of life during the winter. Although not cheap, shrink-wrapping your boat has its benefits—the boat stays warmer and dryer, and snow slides off without needing to shovel around odd structures like dorades and winches. With a portable Mr. Buddy propane heater, you can even warm up the cockpit and sit “outside” and enjoy the snowflakes landing on the sheer blanket above your head. Just remember to recycle all that plastic at the end of the season.

Don’t: Don’t forget to install lots of vents, especially if you live aboard and make sure deck structures are strong enough to support the weight of accumulating snow or are at a good angle so they will shed it efficiently.

Candles are a major hazard for boats. For the same heating effect, opt for an oil lamp instead.

Candles are a major hazard for boats. For the same heating effect, opt for an oil lamp instead.

Oil Lamps

Do: Get a couple of oil lamps. Old school trawler lamps are terrific as they provide both light and heat without drawing on your battery bank or diesel tank. And with good, smokeless lamp oil, they’re clean and soot- and smell-free. Two lamps will add a delightful glow to any saloon and take the chill off as well.

Don’t: Don’t use real candles onboard—ever. For festive flickering, choose LED candles some of which will last all winter on a just a couple of AA batteries. LED string lights draw very little and even a chilly cabin looks better when joyously lighted.

Blankets, Christmas Sweaters & Slippers

Do: Do wrap up. Ok, this one is a no-brainer but we’re so trained to be minimally dressed in our homes even in the depths of winter that donning an extra sweater or woolly socks doesn’t register when we’re aboard. This is the perfect time to find that Christmas sweater your aunt gave you last year, pull on the slippers with reindeer antlers (the ones you secretly like) and put an extra blanket on the bed. Don’t forget to trade out your bedding for flannel sheets and ask Santa for a hot water bottle—you know, the kind you put under your sheets so you can dive into a toasty nest at night.

Don’t: Don’t pull out your blankets at the last minute if they’ve been tightly bound all summer. If they smell musty or have mildew stains, have the time to wash or dry clean them. Also, don’t get slippery slippers—hard-soled slippers with non-skid will serve you well on that companionway.

Baking, Cooking & Drinking

Do: Do turn up that stove—whether electric on a powerboat or propane on a sailboat. Baking cookies is fun and will fill the boat with warm wafts of tempting smells. Don’t trudge through the snowy marina to stand in line at a restaurant—cook in, invite friends and save money as well. Finally, nothing warms you up like hot cider or cocoa spiked with your favorite rum or cordial and with enough of that, you won’t even mind the cold.

Don’t: Don’t ever put something on the stove or in the oven and “run out for just a minute” to your neighbor’s boat. Instead, invite them over and keep an eye on what’s cooking. Oh and beware the amount of rum—its only real warming effect is sliding down your throat.

Sharing Body Heat

Do: Do cuddle up. Christmas presents come in various packages and sharing a little body heat this holiday season may be the cheapest gifting you’ll do. Whether it’s with your significant other or a fur kid, cuddling warms your toes and your heart.

Don’t: Don’t forget to set your alarm because all that exhausting heat sharing may make you miss work the next morning.

Can't stand the cold? Don't fight it any longer. Relocate somewhere south...

Can't stand the cold? Don't fight it any longer. Relocate somewhere south...


Do: Do think about changing your scenery. Seriously—relocating may be the best way to stay (or get) warm this winter. Tired of Boston harbor ice? Sail down to the Tobago Cays in the Caribbean and your worries about staying warm will disappear. In fact, most of your worries may disappear if you suddenly find yourself in the Grenadines.

Don’t: Don’t bet on last minute cheap deals during the holidays. Instead, consider working on your tan early in the months of December and January because those are great times for good charter deals as well.

For tips to use onboard this winter, read Spending Time On Your Boat This Holiday Season or Winter Boating Tips.

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka
Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.